by Dorie Chevlen '15
Linda Garofalo looks somehow out of place in her office.
Sitting at her desk in a black shirt, black jacket, and black yoga pants, she seems incongruously monochromatic amid the colorful posters and artwork adorning the walls. She doesn't seem to fit in with the framed pictures of vibrantly costumed dancers displayed on every surface, or the bin overflowing with multi-patterned knitting that sits on the floor.
Even her computer's screen saver-psychedelic and colorful-seems out of sorts. Indeed, with her silvering hair neatly tied back, and the steady timbre of her voice, Garofalo seems an odd juxtaposition to the visual exuberance surrounding her.
But then, as she speaks, you start to notice things. You notice the way her blue eyes crinkle at the corners with mischief when she tells a joke, and the unexpected gusto of her laugh. You notice how her ready smile widens just a bit more when she talks about dancing, and the casual way she crosses her leg over her knee, and the way she throws her head back in laughter when something's really funny.
Very suddenly you realize that you were wrong. This colorful office doesn't just suit Linda; it is an extension of her polychromatic personality.
Not that she was always this colorful. Growing up in Fairfield, CT, Garofalo spent much of her childhood in a black leotard and pink tights. "Just like any little girl, my mom put me in ballet classes," she says.
Setting her apart from those other little girls, however, was Garofalo's uncommon aptitude for the art. Her teachers, impressed with her premature talent, encouraged her to pursue ballet further. For several years she did. In fact (and this may come as a shock to those of you who only know her as a modern dancer), she didn't stray from ballet until starting college.
Garofalo's time at Texas Christian University was short but influential. "I didn't like Texas," she recalls. "I felt like I was isolated...there was nowhere to go."
Still, it was while enrolled there that she first became truly acquainted with modern dance, taking daily Graham-influenced technique classes.
"I fell in love with it," she says with a smile. Those daily modern classes were Garofalo's only real joy at school, though she does jokingly suggest another source. "You know, there were a bunch of cowboys," she says, dissolving into laughter.
In any case, she left after a year. "I just wanted to dance," she explains.
Back home in Connecticut, that's exactly what Garofalo did. Starting first by commuting daily into New York City for classes, Garofalo soon moved there to study under full scholarship at the Harkness Dance Center.
It was a great experience. Everything from the beautiful ballrooms converted into studio space to the incredible teachers made Garofalo happy. "I had everything right there," she explains. "Ballet, modern, jazz—everything was right in the building."
Everything, that is, but Graham. Garofalo first started taking class at the Martha Graham School of Contemporary Dance when some of her friends went, but it wasn't long before she was spending as much time there as she could. She took their summer and winter intensives, working her way up to taking class daily. "Sometimes twice a day," Garofalo adds, then laughs. "It was a lot of Graham."
It wasn't just a lot of Graham technique, though; it was also a lot of Martha. Garofalo remembers she and her friends would even be able to sense, from a block away, when Martha Graham was in the studio.
"You could just feel she was in the building," Garofalo recalls. "I just knew - we just knew, walking to the school. It was like, 'Martha's there, I feel her! I feel her, she's there!' And she would be!"
When Linda worked her way up to the third or fourth level at the school, she even got to experience Martha Graham in class. Another dancer would teach the class, Garofalo explains, and "after each exercise we'd go and gather around her [Martha's] chair and sit, and she would give her words of wisdom." Even now, Garofalo is still in awe of the experience.. "Aaaaamazing!" she laughs. "It was amazing."
Sadly, however, that amazing experience was to be cut short. Garofalo's mother fell ill, and she moved back to Connecticut to take care of her. She took a whole year off of dancing, worked at a marketing firm, and taught class a few nights a week. A whole year had passed, Garofalo recalls, "And then I got the phone call." A friend from the Graham School was calling because the faculty had been asking around for her, and they were thinking about offering her a scholarship. "And I was like, 'Okaaaay,'" Garofalo recalls. "I gave my two weeks' notice and that was that."
Garofalo's first week back dancing, though, she auditioned for a professional company and got hired, halting her plans of returning to the Graham School. Though it was a difficult decision, it was ultimately the best one. Working with Danceworks proved to be an incredible experience, largely because of its accomplished director, former Paul Taylor dancer Geulah Abrahams.
"She was amazing," Garofalo reflects, "and nurturing, and a really innovative choreographer. And the other dancers in the company were fantastic. It was just a great, great gig."
Though Garofalo sometimes can't help but wonder what would have happened had she stayed at the Graham school, she doesn't regret her choice.
"If I had stayed I probably would have gotten the scholarship, and so it's always kind of like this 'What if?' thing...But it didn't matter," she asserts. "I had an amazing experience working with Guella." Not that that was the only work she was doing. "Of course I was waitressing, and hostessing, and working all over the place, and commuting back to Connecticut to teach to make money. We all had ten different jobs. While still trying to get to class, and rehearse," Garofalo pauses, then smiles. "It was crazy. Crazy, crazy, crazy."
And it was only about to get crazier. After about five years with Danceworks, Garofalo's then husband-oh, did I mention? Despite all her jobs, Garofalo, ever the multitasker, still managed to squeeze in a wedding- had a job transfer and they moved to Baltimore.
"I did not want to come here," she laughs. "It was not my plan to be in Baltimore!"
Not that she has anything against Charm City. "I was teaching all over the place, I was working with Guelah, and I had my whole family in Connecticut, and it never occurred to me that I would leave all that," she explains. "But I did."
Not satisfied to give up dancing completely, Garofalo started taking drop in classes at Towson, and then heard that Kathi Ferguson's studio offered professional level classes. "I started to go to that, well who was teaching it..." she deadpans, "Amanda [another Goucher faculty member]!"
From there, Garofalo explains, "the snowball started happening." She started meeting other dancers and choreographers. "I was in like every pick-up company in the area, working with several different companies," she says. I mean, wherever I could get work, I was taking that opportunity to get work."
In 1998, she was offered another opportunity to work: as a dance teacher at Goucher College. Garofalo quickly rose through the ranks, first teaching one class a semester, then two, then earning half-time status, until finally reaching full-time status. Making this even more impressive is the fact that she accomplished all this while also juggling motherhood and going back to school herself. (She completed her degree at Towson University in 2002.)
Garofalo laughs remembering the occasional times she would have to bring her daughter in to work: "I'd get students to watch her while I taught, not all the time, but you know, I'd have to bring the kids sometimes." For those students, it will probably seem incredible, but little Lydia and Eric aren't so little anymore:They're now 17 and 19 respectively.
It may have been a hectic journey leading up to this point in her career, but Garofalo is grateful for it. "This is my niche," she explains. "And I think this is where I do my best work." Especially now that she's not performing, Garofalo appreciates the opportunity to be able to teach and choreograph others.
She shares a particularly telling anecdote from her Graham years: "Martha Graham used to always say, 'You have two deaths.' One when you retire from performing, that's your first death, and then," she pauses, adding with mock grim, "your real death!"
Luckily, through her work here, Garofalo's inspiration hasn't had to die. "I found my creative release in choreographing," she explains. "It kind of filled this hole when I wasn't performing as much anymore."
Garofalo has created several choreographic works since starting at Goucher, both with the Dance Department and the Theatre Department, and she tries to make them different every time. "I don't want a cookie cutter stamp on my work," she says. "I mean, I want it to be good obviously, but I try and really push myself to do something very different each time." Despite those differences, however, every piece still retains a little essence of herself. "I really feel like there's a piece of me left with every piece," she explains, "because of what I invest of myself to build them."
She also tries to make her work collaborative when possible. Some of her pieces have involved live music (played by students or professional accompanists), costumes and sets created by art students, and choreographic input from her dancers. "I like collaborating," she says. This interest in collaboration is also part of why she enjoys her role directing the Goucher College Summer Arts Institute. Balancing music, dance, and social events, she's proud to say that "it's more than a camp."
Garofalo enjoys knitting, crafting, and playing tennis, though she rightfully jokes that she really doesn't have much opportunity to do so. Between teaching, choreographing, parenting, and performing administrative duties, she points out, "What do I have time to do? Sit on my heating pad." She sometimes wishes she had more opportunity to travel, but ultimately, she doesn't regret anything. "I love it here," Linda says, "I love the students here."
And the students lover her back. Garofalo stands out for her creative genius, her patient teaching, her sharp sense of humor, and her overwhelming kindness. Students from every skill level, dance majors and non-major alike, have nothing but positive reviews to give her.
Dance major Annie Fortenberry '15 describes Linda as "endlessly encouraging," and sociology major Talia Kaatz '15 says she "cares a lot about her students." Another dance major, Drew Santoro '14, agrees: "Linda makes it her personal duty to ensure that all Goucher dancers have a safe space on campus... She makes sure all Goucher dance students, not just her own, know that she has a box of tissues in her office if they ever need it." Dance major Therese Ronco '15 adds, "She always has time and an answer for any and every question. She wants everyone to succeed, and she spreads a feeling of joy for movement and creative expression through her multifaceted classes, as well as through her choreography."
Back in her office, at the close of the interview, Garofalo stands (in perfect terpsichorean posture, of course) to escort me out and suddenly I notice something I had missed before. Peeking from beneath her jet-black pants are bright rainbow legwarmers.